No position in sports is more important than the quarterback position in football. NFL franchises can die a slow death if they miss on a quarterback through the NFL draft. In college, the time is short with quarterbacks, which makes landing a solid quarterback recruit on a regular basis both difficult and crucial. Some programs can do this better than others, of course, but landing a top-rated recruit is just half the battle. The other half is developing that player to be ready to make an impact. Sometimes players will take a year or two (or three or four) before reaching their full potential, but every now and then a program will get lucky and have a player capable of winning right away.
This is the beauty in ranking quarterback classes over time. There are some classes that are loaded with talented and accomplished passers at the college level, as well as the NFL. There are other classes that many not have the style points but had players have just as important a role in their respective programs as the next.
Two years Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall took the time to rank each of the 12 most recent quarterback classes. A lot has changed since then though, so it was time to take another look at some of the younger classes from that list, see how they have panned out, and then throw in the more recent recruiting classes before we even think about touching the Class of 2016 (maybe in two more years we can revisit that as well as the Class of 2017).
So now, with the benefit of a little more evidence and analysis to rely on, the time has come to rank each of the past 14 quarterback classes in college football against one another.
1. Class of 2006
The Class of 2006 remains the top quarterback class since the turn of the century, with a pair of Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford) and three BCS national championships between Tebow, Bradford and Greg McElroy. The class also turned out some other talented quarterbacks that would go on to start in the NFL, namely Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Jake Locker and Andy Dalton. This class also gave us Case Keenum at Houston, who under Kevin Sumlin and Art Briles went on to rewrite the NCAA record book.
2. Class of 2008
The Class of 2008 gave college football two of its best quarterbacks of the 21st century with Baylor’s Robert Griffin III winning a Heisman Trophy and Stanford’s Andrew Luck perhaps being the best college signal-caller to never win a Heisman Trophy (he was a runner-up twice). The rest of the class had some good talent as well, including the likes of Blaine Gabbert, EJ Manuel and Terrelle Pryor. Manuel and Gabbert would go on to be first-round NFL draft picks, while Pryor’s collegiate career ended prematurely amid scandal at Ohio State. But talent-wise, the Class of 2008 had plenty to offer. The depth of the class sometimes gets overlooked but players like Darron Thomas, Landry Jones, Collin Klein, Nick Florence, Seth Doege, Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib and more helped in this respect.
3. Class of 2011
The last time this ranking was organized, the Class of 2011 checked in at fifth. Two years later, it was time to reassess where this class stands. This class developed two Heisman Trophy winners in Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. The next tier consists of Teddy Bridgewater, Kevin Hogan, Brett Hundley, Connor Cook, Trevone Boykin, Dak Prescott and more. And in the past two years, the value and respect of some of the other members of this class have increased. Everett Golson led Notre Dame to a BCS Championship Game appearance and Boykin later led TCU to a share of the Big 12 title. This past season, Marquise Williams took North Carolina to the ACC Championship Game and Cook led his Spartans to the College Football Playoff as a Big Ten champion.
4. Class of 2009
You will be hard-pressed to find a legend in the Class of 2009, but there is no doubt this group served up some successful college quarterbacks. AJ McCarron led Alabama to a pair of BCS national championships. Aaron Murray provided some tremendous stability at Georgia at the position for the majority of his time in Athens. Geno Smith was a natural fit in West Virginia’s up-tempo, high-scoring offense, and Tajh Boyd helped Clemson turn a corner on its path to national championship contender. Dual-threat quarterbacks like Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson were highlights waiting to happen with the ability to create plays with their feet, and Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch led the Huskies to a BCS bowl appearance. Matt Barkley was among the best passers in the west during a brief sanction phase for USC.